Day 5

The Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel again provided us a delicious breakfast of Chinese and American food, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, along with soup, meats, and breads:  sweetened rice cakes, firm and moist slices of dragon fruit, piles of chocolate filled croissants, and steaming stalks of delicious pea-green bok choy, for example. This was not a breakfast but rather a feast.
At 9:30 a.m., Mr. Sargent announced our departure, and we followed our tour guide, a young Chinese woman carrying a stick with an attached toy dog do so we could spot her in a crowd, through the narrow, dusty, small-business lined and now-familiar street of our Hutong.  Our 21st century two-toned beige Toyota van would again take us back in history, this time to the vast complex called The Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven was absolutely astounding. Built in 1420, the rounded structure, which was made entirely out of wood with not a single nail, was designed by the Ming Dynasty for heavenly sacrifices. The temple was circular, painted in many hues of bright paint, and featured incredible detailing on every panel. The round temple situated on the square piece of ground represented to the Chinese heaven and earth. We learned that just as in the Forbidden City, only those at the top of the hierarchy could enter the Temple, and the Emperor led the ceremonies.  With many buildings in a large park-like area, the Temple of Heaven was much more than a place of worship and sacrifice.  Almost as interesting as the temple itself were the legions of the elderly Chinese performing calisthenics, practicing tai-chi, or dancing; while Eric and Zeena went to dance with one of the many groups whose music filled the air, Hayley made a friend of a cheerful old man who was insisting that she take a picture of a “very beautiful” kite. Of special note, according to our guide, were the aged trees, some over 500 years old.  After we all regrouped, Ms. Smith reminded us that the long walkways, where hundreds of older Beijing residents were playing cards, dominoes or chess, knitting, or just talking, were originally used to transport sacrificed carcasses to the Temple of Heaven.  As we followed the long walkway to the bus, the symmetry and symbolism of the entry gates emphasized the ceremonial and hierarchical features of this very old society.

After lunch we visited the Summer Palace, whose most famous resident was the Dragon Empress. The Dragon Empress, the last Chinese empress who dominated in the last of the 19th century and died in 1908 one day after her son was poisoned, was known for her anti-Western views and for the great power which she held under the throne of Qing Emperor Guangxu.  In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Summer Palace (located in the northwest section of metropolitan Beijing) was mainly used as by the emperor during the summer as a refuge from the intense heat. The Summer Place only exists because of the Dragon Empress. The location was originally going to be used as a navel base; however, she thought a summer home more necessary. This is evidence of the growing corruption of Imperial China. The palace itself was absolutely mesmerizing. It features The Long Corridor that runs alongside the lake, a structure that has appeared in the Guinness Book of World records as the longest hallway, and longest art gallery. The sides of the hall are decorated with traditional Chinese patterns and hundreds of painted scenes from famous stories. At the end of the walkway, resting in the lake, was a marble boat weighing hundreds of tons and sporting multiple green and blue stained glass window and two paddle-wheels, another example of ostentatious spending on items of no use in modernizing China or helping the millions of people in poverty.

Later that night, we had dinner with journalist Lijia Zhang. As an international writer and scholar, she shared with us the story of her life, going to work–at her mother’s insistence– in a state-owned-factory at the age of 16 and working there for ten years, even as she learned English and widened her knowledge of the problems within the 1970s-1980s Chinese system. As we asked questions, we learned that she had organized a factory protest at the same time as the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989, and that she believes the lack of interest in politics of China’s youth is a growing topic of interest that will shape the country’s future. In speaking of the limits on human rights in China, she noted “the cage is so much larger now” [than before the reform movement] that ignoring its existence is easy for most people.  The whole experience really tied together what we had studied so far during the trip.  Her book, ironically entitled Socialism is Great, may be required reading for next year’s Comparative Politics class as a way to introduce the massive changes in late 20th century China.

All in all, the day was jam-packed with exciting things that we could have never experienced from a textbook. As we climbed into our beds at the Double Happiness Court Hotel (Eric in his mating chamber), we all knew that we had a unique and detailed appreciation for the old China, the 20th century changes, and 21st century challenges.
-Grant Kelly

Day 4 – China 2011

Day 4 started early as we gathered at 8 o’clock in the hotel lobby to meet our guide for the day, Iko. A short woman with a big personality, she immediately drew all of us into the experience. Once inside the puffer fish bus, as dubbed by Grant, Iko gave us a history of the modern Beijing transportation system. There are 6 main roads that circle the city as well as many buses and the growing subway system. We discussed jobs, salaries, and other social and economic factors of living within the city. We found out that she started her own travel company, which was very difficult, and that she has two cats that live with her parents. As we drove closer to the amazingly beautiful mountain range with jagged peaks of magnificent size, the energy level in the bus slowly started to rise. After the hundredth time of craning our necks, we were rewarded with the first sight of the Great Wall of China. Everyone was giddy and in awe of the wall, even Mr. Gannon.

Day 3

On our third day, we all woke up and went to breakfast, which was the same multitude of plates and trays loaded with Chinese food and some more recognizable American ones. We left the hotel at 9:30 to go to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world. On the way there we passed the giant silver egg-shaped dome of the National Performing Arts Center, a shiny new millennium building that contrasted sharply with the ancient imperial capital across the street. A police blockade prevented our crossing the street, which Ms. Smith was upset about so she decided to confront the police officer (actually, she just asked for directions). We ended up going underground to the other side of the road where we entered the large line to go in to the Forbidden City. Finally, when we emerged from the other side of a 12 lane road, we were awestruck at the size of the square, as well as the grandeur of the Great Hall of the People, where the National People’s Congress is held every year and is now in session. We now had no problem seeing why the government was so worried about the 1989 protest movement and the sheer number of people it attracted.

Day 2 – China 2011

We arrived at the Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel at 12:30 am Beijing time. Our journey into Beijing from the airport mixed jungle both of modern and ancient China. Even a tollbooth on a highway, for example, was set within a colorful temple. Neon lights and skyscrapers highlighted our ride in. We pulled off the main road and were dropped off at the entrance to an alley (which we later learned was called a Houtong). At first we all thought the driver was either confused as to what hotel we were staying at or we were about to be murdered in Beijing and never see the lights of the Castle again. Fortunately our hotel was located on the alley and it was a short 5-minute walk from the main road down the alley. The alleyway, which is about 8 feet wide, is lined with motorcycles, bikes, and small cars, leaving about 5 to 6 feet of room for pedestrians and all traffic to move through. Cars and bikes fly down the alleys seeming to glide inches away from pedestrians and oncoming traffic. Cars do not stop for pedestrians and it’s all up to chance that you make it across. Mrs. Sibley did have a near death experience on our way home from dinner. She had stopped to take a photo of the cardboard that people attach to the rims of their tires. People put this on so that the many dogs don’t pee on the rims. When Mrs. Sibley looked up, a motorcycle going at least 30 mph almost hit her but stopped within inches of her.

Day 1 – 2011 China

Although missing Frances Fuqua, the Pace Academy Knights embarked on a journey across the world.

It’s been about seven hours and Pace Academy students- and faculty, including Mrs. Sibley’s sister – are still going strong. Eric, however has managed to trip one passenger, get reprimanded by a flight attendant because of limbs overflowing in the aisle while he was sleeping, and be kindly asked by the woman in front of him not to hit his screen to hard – it wakes her up. To add to Eric’s frazzling experiences with other flyers Mrs. Sibley had a terribly unfortunate accident of her own. First, however, I must give you background to her situation. You know those times when Ms. Smith tells you to read and take notes on articles she sends you, but really you skim the articles without taking a single note. Well, today I learned that Mrs. Sibley is NOT that kind of woman. In fact, she loves taking notes,and she loves her notes. And for those of you who are suspicious that Mrs. Sibley even took any notes at all, I can vouch that she did.  After taking part in what I thought were very interesting conversations with Mrs. Sibley, she left me bored and lonely only to bury herself in reading andnote taking on ancient China, but come on, who wouldn’t want to take notes on ANCIENT CHINA?!